I am not remotely Southern but after eating okra and various gumbos over the past weeks, I can say that I appreciate Southern food. Collard greens are back in our CSA farm’s choice group. I’m always happy to welcome a member of the Brassica family, which includes cabbage and broccoli, because of the high nutritional value. While my research into Southern food ways tells me to stew collard greens slowly and for a long time, the freshness of those large fan-like leaves and the tenderness of the stems made me think otherwise. So I cooked them for minutes rather than hours (as I would if making a gratin) and dressed them as I would wilted dandelion greens or curly endive: with onions and a cider vinegar and oil vinaigrette.
Cowpeas, the type referred to as black-eyed peas, are legumes that are high in protein (some sources say 24%) for the consumers and high in nitrogen for the soil they’re planted in. Double whammy. I have a particular way of cooking dried beans and legumes, which is not the most conventional but produces a gently cooked and tender result. I bake them slowly, covered in about an inch of lightly salted water, in a tightly covered casserole (Dutch oven) for an hour or two in a warm oven (250 degrees). Simple. No soaking, no boiling to let sit for an hour. Of course, all dried beans and legumes are best purchased in bulk from a source with a high turnover, and those cook in a remarkably shorter time than the packaged supermarket versions.
This was a delicious combination. It is traditionally cooked with smoked pork hock or bacon (I added smoked pork hock to the beans), but the meat is optional albeit genuinely Southern. I served this with sliced heirloom tomatoes, a fresh counterpoint to the deep flavors of the braised greens and legumes.
Braised Collard Greens
1 bunch collard greens
1 medium onion, sliced vertically into thin half-moon pieces
1 tbsp cider vinegar (or more, depending on amount of collard greens)
1 tsp sugar (proportion with the vinegar)
Salt and pepper
Prepare the collard greens. Wash the leaves. Cut out the stems and shop them into ¼-1/2-inch lengths. Slice the leaves crosswise into ½-1-inch strips.
Saute the onion slowly in the oil in a large pan for a few minutes and add the collard stems. Cook slowly over low heat, covered, for about 10-15 minutes. Add the sliced collard greens and a little water, stir to combine, and cook, covered for about 10 minutes or so, checking for doneness. They should be soft and pliable and not hard to chew. Continue cooking until they reach that stage.
Add a little vegetable oil combined with the vinegar and sugar. Stew for a few minutes to combine and season with salt and pepper to taste.
Serve with black-eyed peas.